Book Review: The Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut

This SF novel is another from the SF Masterworks series. Whereas the last SF book that I read – Book Review: The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu) – was a sublime piece of work, this book begins with quite ridiculous characters. The main protagonists are Winston Niles Rumfoord and Malachi Constant. Rumfoord, caught by the spirit of adventure, has flown his spacecraft into a “chronological-synclastic infundibulum”, leaving him distributed throughout the solar system, materialising on Earth every 59 days. Able to see the past and future, he hatches a dastardly plan to colonise Mars, invade Earth and found a new religion. Malachi Constant’s father made a fortune by investing in stocks and shares, following a secret recipe for stock-picking that never failed him. Consequently, Malachi inherited vast wealth – but he had no relationship with his father and spends life partying to excess.

I nearly wrote off this book after the early chapters, but the plot develops and the journey of Malachi Constant from Earth, on to Mars (part of the great military build-up to the war) then to the beautiful crystal caves of Mercury are a work of great imagination. There are even parallels with The Three-Body problem, in that we sense the influence of the alien world Tralfamadore in the behaviour of the characters. One of my favourite parts was when Salo (a Tralfamadorian stranded on Venus) read replies to his message home, written in stones on the surface of Earth at what is now known as Stonehenge: “Replacement part being rushed with all possible speed”.

This book won’t be to everyone’s taste (I’m not sure it was to mine!) but, being published in 1959, it’s a work full of the glories of space travel and a terrifying plot of how a rogue individual can control the destiny of our planet.

Three stars

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Book Review: The Night Fire, Michael Connelly

This is another novel from Michael Connelly featuring his new detective partnership, Ballard and Bosch. Renee Ballard is a young woman who, through no fault of her own, works the undesirable night shift at the LAPD. To supplement the drudge work she is assigned, she investigates cases on the side, with some assistance from retired detective Harry Bosch. Now that Bosch is 70 years old, he’s showing signs of wear and tear (his knee is a problem and he walks with a cane). Despite that, his appetite to solve crimes is undiminished and he does a lot of the leg work, whilst leaving the action and limelight to Ballard.

The book starts with the trial of a suspect charged with the murder of a judge. Unusually, Bosch assists the lawyer for the defence (his half-brother Micky Haller) and on examination of the case file, he finds a flaw in the original investigation. Being Bosch, he isn’t satisfied with helping Haller on the case, he revives the original investigation to find the real killer. Meanwhile, Ballard is called to investigate the death of a rough sleeper who burned to death in his tent. Whilst initially not suspicious, this case warrants further investigation because the deceased stood to inherit a fortune.

A further case is featured in this book, after a widow of Bosch’s former mentor passes a murder book to him. This seemingly unpromising case (a drug-related murder in a side alley 30 years ago) reveals much about the mentor and gives Ballard and Bosch the dual-challenge of not only tracking down the killer, but also keeping their investigation legitimate so that it can go to trial.

By coincidence, I read The Overlook just before this one, and that book has the story behind Bosch’s chronic myeloid leukaemia due to caesium poisoning.

As ever, Connelly has written a good page-turner in this book, although not up there with his best.
Three stars

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Rambling: Linton Orchards Circular, Kent

Map of the route
This is another walk from the Kent Pathfinder Guide, starting from the village of Linton. We had lunch at The Bull Inn, which has extensive views across the Kent countryside, including the orchards and vineyards that formed the route for our walk. The full walk in the book is 7 miles (11km) but we reduced it to 7km by walking just the second half, which crosses the Bon Fleur cross-country course (sadly, there weren’t any horses on this occasion) and includes extensive apple orchards and vineyards.
Views of Kent

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Rambling: Lamberhurst to Hook Green, Kent

Map of route

Lamberhurst is a pretty village near Royal Tunbridge Wells, with a couple of pubs. We had an excellent lunch at The Chequers, before walking the second half of the “Lamberhurst and Hook Green” walk from the Kent Pathfinder Guide. The plan had been to stop for refreshments at The Elephant’s Head at Hook Green, but unfortunately that was closed on Mondays!

The walk was almost entirely away from any main roads, making it very peaceful. There were plenty of grouse around the wooded areas (see below) and the walk also skirted the edge of a vineyard which seemed to have a fine yield of grapes this year.

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Rambling: Leeds Castle, Kent


This is a short walk of about 5km, starting at the village of Leeds. Cutting through the village cricket ground, the route joins a footpath into the grounds of Leeds Castle, where you can get views of the castle itself and enjoy the views across the Great Lake. Whilst visiting the buildings themselves needs a visitor pass, the views are free and this was a delightful walk, including refreshments from the Whistle Stop coffee stop.

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Book Review: The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)

This book won the 2015 Hugo Award for best novel and is one that I would recommend to Science Fiction fans. The story starts during China’s Cultural Revolution and witnesses restrictions on research and philosophy, to the extent that when the main character’s father (an academic) does not conform, he is publicly flogged and murdered. The daughter, Ye Wenjie, goes on to serve the country doing hard labour, but is recognised and recruited for a top secret monitoring mission. At Red Coast Base, a huge satellite dish is receiving and transmitting messages – although the purpose is shrouded in mystery. Ye Wenjie starts work as a technician, but her intellect and application make her indispensable and following a period of re-habilitation, she is able to do some research more fitting to her potential.

Without giving away too much, the Three-Body Problem of the title refers to a planetary system with three suns. The system is unstable, resulting in intermittent chaotic/stable periods for the nearby planet, Trisolaris. We meet this system through a sophisticated online game, played by another academic, Wang Miao. He sees a series of foremost physicists losing their minds and committing suicide – could this be due to the impact of the game, or is there a more serious disconnect between established, universal laws of theoretical physics and their application in a world such as Trisolaris? He teams up with Shi Quiang, a well-connected police detective, to infiltrate the masterminds behind the game and find out the truth.
Five Stars

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Rambling: Four Elms to Bough Beech Reservoir, Kent


This 9km circular walk starts in the pretty village of Four Elms and cuts across farmland for a brief encounter with Bough Beech Reservoir. Don’t be fooled by the picture above though, which I took through a chain link fence – the route does not get particularly close to the water! While the reservoir and its visitor centre were disappointing, the footpaths through the fields were superb. One field was full of peas in pods ready to be picked, another boasted tall sweetcorn plants, with the cobs just appearing among the silky tassels.

There is a garden centre at Four Elms with a delightful restaurant for refreshments.

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Book Review: The Overlook, Michael Connelly

This Harry Bosch thriller is more than just a murder case. Public safety is at stake, with a sizeable amount of a radioactive substance having been taken from medical facilities, possibly by terrorists. Whilst Harry Bosch is intent on solving the murder, federal agencies are focussed on chasing the trail of the caesium before it can be turned into a dirty bomb. Tensions mount, with Harry unsure whether he can even trust his some-time lover, special agent Rachel Walling, who is heading up the Tactical Intelligence Unit of the LA FBI office.
Four stars

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Rambling: Otford 6 mile circular, Kent

Otford is a pretty village in Kent, with a very attractive pond. This walk starts from the car park next to the cricket ground, where parking was very reasonable – just £1 for 3 hours! We followed a route similar to this one on AllTrails. The route also goes close to Shoreham village with its pubs and bridge over the River Darent. Unusually for Kent, there are several climbs on the walk, some through the woods that were steep enough for steps to have been provided. The highlight was a descent through a meadow full of wild flowers, with views of rolling hills and unspoilt countryside.

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Rambling: Markbeech to Hoath Corner, Kent

This was a lovely, quiet 9km walk, starting from The Kentish Horse inn in Markbeech, as published on AllTrails. Markbeech is notable for a tree planted in 1897 to commemorate 60 years of Queen Victoria’s reign, and a village hall built at the same time. The walk was a delightful mixture of meadows and woodland, with only short periods along roads in between. We particularly enjoyed the fine views across the Kent countryside and the huge rock at Hoath Corner, from which The Rock Inn takes its name. It must be noted that although we were following footpaths marked on the map, the trails themselves were not obvious on the ground and the gates/styles were often well-hidden at the sides of fields. Other walkers had commented that this walk was very muddy, so be warned if trying this walk other than during the summer.

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